Does Christmas have any real impact on how I will live in 2016? Now that we are a week into these twelve days of Christmas, and entering a new year tomorrow, what do these Christmas themes of adoration of our incarnate Messiah have to say about how we will live? Maybe considering the entire upcoming year can be too big to be very helpful. It's probably more meaningful to narrow the focus: how will Christmas shape how I will spend the first week of the new year? The point always has to do with right now, so, how will my desire to be one who adores Christ shape how I spend December 31 and New Year's Day?
If I want to consider how I will live today, tomorrow, next week, and next year in light of the fact that the Messiah has come and is here, the way we normally set goals and New Year's resolutions tends to fall a bit short of what we really need. So, here's an unconventional resolution I'm setting for myself in light of the magnitude of Christmas:
I first set this as my New Year’s resolution in 2011, and my track record over the past five years of doing so may not be that impressive. Yet it is still the only direction I really want to point my soul on this seventh day of Christmas as I prepare for the new year. If the Messiah has come, how can I claim to adore him if I do anything less than intend to allow the coming of the one who "will save them from their sins" take its full intended effect on me?
I essentially stole this resolution from Dallas Willard (which may be a step in the wrong direction of "quit sinning," since theft is on the list of big ones), but he says it well:
"If one day I assure my Christian friends that I intend to 'quit sinning' and arrive at a stage where I can perfectly follow Jesus Christ, they will most likely be scandalized and threatened–or at least very puzzled. 'Who do you think you are?' they would probably say. Or they might think, 'What is he really up to?'
But if, on the other hand, I state that I do not intend to stop sinning or that I do not plan ever to follow my Lord in actuality, they will be equally upset. And for good reason. How can Jesus be my Lord if I don’t even plan to obey him? Would that really differ in substance and outcome from not having him as Lord at all? My Christian fellowship circle will allow me not to follow him and even not to plan to follow him, but they will not permit me to say it.
Yet, I must do one or the other. Either I must intend to stop sinning or not intend to stop. There is no third possibility. I must plan to follow Jesus fully or not plan to follow him. But how can I honestly do either? And does not planning to follow him really differ, before God and humanity, from planning not to follow him?"*
Here's the key to talking about anything as lofty as quitting sinning (and it drives home the point of Christmas): this isn't about goal-setting nor ratcheting up our willpower to do hard things. Instead it's about allowing Christ to live more fully in us.
Christmas is the emphatic statement of the shocking good news that the only one who could save us came to live in a body every bit as human as ours, and that through his life in one of these bodies he defeated both sin and death. The savior who was enfleshed in Bethlehem would say on his last night with his closest friends, "abide in me, and I will abide in you." It is that mutual abiding that gradually overcomes all the kinds of obstacles to God's work in us and in our world–and that is the kind of life we are after when we talk about quitting sin, adoring and abiding in our Messiah, and following Jesus fully. It is, in other words, incarnation, because Christmas continues to go on–in you and me, as we give Christ room to abide in us.
A central part of the method of John Wesley’s early Methodists was to take time at each new year to "renew our covenant with God.” Wesley believed very strongly in this, and he thought that it was one of the most widely neglected practices for opening us to God’s grace, and leading us into this kind of life, so he and his early Methodists took this very seriously. They would often spend a prayerful day or two beforehand in preparation, asking God that they “might promise unto the Lord our God and keep it.” They understood this annual covenant renewal to be as holy of a thing as any they would do the entire year and they knew that they were desperate for God’s help in both making, and especially keeping, their commitments.
If you are able, you might want to spend some time today reading prayerfully over the words of this current adaptation of Wesley’s Covenant Renewal Service. Whether or not you do that, the prayer below is a central part of that service, and perhaps you’ll find it a fitting way to close this year, and begin the next, in adoration of our king.
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low by thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
("A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition" from The United Methodist Hymnal)
*Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), 12-13.